Magazine Article | June 30, 2014

Finding Disruptive Innovators In Clinical Trials

Source: Life Science Leader

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL

One of the most productive conferences for me in terms of getting innovative ideas, as well as meeting people of a disruptive nature, is The Conference Forum’s Disruptive Innovations To Advance Clinical Trials event. For example, this is where I first met Pfizer’s head of clinical innovation, Craig Lipset; Lilly’s VP of clinical innovation and implementation, Jeff Kasher, Ph.D.; as well as VP of clinical trial innovation and external alliances, Andreas Koester, M.D., Ph.D. — the subject of this month’s feature article on page 26. In fact, at Life Science Leader we are hoping to create a similarly disruptive conference, Outsourced Pharma West (, geared toward pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical executives who form and manage partnerships for development and manufacturing. In my discussions with executives, many have shared their insights regarding the battle being waged around acquiring top talent. If this involves securing disruptive innovators, I have some information to consider.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, bestselling author of numerous groundbreaking business books (e.g., Outliers: The Story of Success [2008], and The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference [2000]), truly disruptive innovators share a combination of traits, including that of being disagreeable. Thus, if companies want to court disruptive innovators, they need to learn how to cultivate people who may not fit their usual employee profile. According to Gladwell, this is part of the role of senior management — to create an atmosphere of innovation that allows for people to be disagreeable. Gladwell stresses not to confuse disagreeable with allowing people to be obnoxious. Rather, disruptive innovators will have what many perceive as a strong sense of self-esteem that comes across as being indifferent to the ways others see them. Gladwell believes the characteristic of being disagreeable is what lets innovators pursue breakthrough ideas, even in the face of objection and derision. Unfortunately, this same characteristic can make for a challenging work environment for fellow employees.

According to Gladwell, for disruptive innovators to be truly successful, the disagreeable trait must also be paired with the ability to be receptive to new ideas, a solid work ethic, and a strong sense of urgency. All of these traits can be tested for during the hiring process. Though people may often exhibit one or two of these characteristics, it is rare to find all of them in one person. Therefore, not possessing all three should not be used as the sole reason to not hire someone. You also can test for self-esteem and self-confidence, but don’t waste your time. Instead, seek to create an environment where you can build employee self-efficacy, which influences the tasks employees choose to learn and the goals they set for themselves. It also affects an employee’s level of effort and persistence when learning difficult tasks. You can test and hire for this as well. But if you put such a person in a non-challenging, micromanaging environment, why bother? A great short article, Self-Efficacy In The Workplace: Implications For Motivation And Performance, by Fred Lunenburg (Sam Houston State University), can quickly get you up to speed on the subject. I read a motivational expert’s insights on self-esteem and self-confidence, and I think your time would be better spent understanding the implications of self-efficacy if you want better motivation, performance, and perhaps, a little disruptive innovation.